With the third instalmment of the award-winning animation, “Madagascar,” recently wowing the crowds at Cannes, the island republic just off the coast of Mozambique returns as a traveller’s buzz word, making the world’s fourth-largest island a haven for those wishing to eschew the traditional summer holiday this year.
One of the most diverse ecosystems on earth - 90 percent of its wildlife is found nowhere else on the planet - Madagascar evolved in complete isolation for millennia, after splitting from India some 88 million years ago, creating some of the most awe-inspiring landscapes you’re ever likely to find.
And as tourists have long discovered, a trip to Madagascar with its fascinating pirate-filled past, luxe resorts and amazing day trip opportunities, sure beats lying on a generic beach somewhere else this summer.
Genies and Caves
If you really want to impress your friends via your Tumblr account this year, Madagascar has bucket list moments aplenty, not least coming up against some incredible wildlife.
Home to over 70 different types of lemur, as well as the world’s biggest - and smallest - chameleons, Madagascar shows you what Mother Nature throws into the mix after 70 million years cut off from the rest of the world.
And there are many different tours you can embark on, via boat, train, canoe or car to experience this land of diversity.
A days-long jaunt down the Tsiribihina River is the perfect way to view the country, and a great way to see the villages and rice fields lining the banks.
Different regions of the island yield different natural treasures, so head to Ifaty in the south, to photograph the spiny “octopus” trees, while to the West discover the curvaceous (and wonderfully named) baobabs - with the Avenue du Boabab near Morondava a must-visit.
Find the island’s biggest lemur, the Indri Indri, at the Andasibe-Mantadia National Park, while ring-tailed lemurs abound at Berenty Private Reserve.
Ankarana National Park is home to the “Tsingy” you’ll hear natives talk about - which comes from the Malagasy word for “walk on tiptoe” - and refers to the sharp contours of the limestone shelves and spikes there, which make for incredible cave exploring opportunities. A word of warning though, legend has it that the tiny stump-tailed chameleons here are actually forest genies who bring bad luck!
From June until September (the Madagascan winter months), head to the island’s eastern shore around Sainte Marie, to catch sight of the herds of humpback whales who migrate to the waters from the Antarctic to calve.
And even more spectacular are the courtship rituals played out, which see the 45-ton males leaping from the waters.
To catch sight of dolphins and whale sharks, head to Nossi-Be, whilst you’ll also find whale-watching at Maroantsetra and Comoro islands and Mayotte Island.
Canoe trips along the Tsiribihina River are a way to check out some of the more inaccessible areas, and you’ll pass some gorgeous natural waterfalls, while a kayak trip along the Manambolo River will takeyou through the volcanic region of Itasy in the western part of the country.
To get away from the modern world even more, book a canyoneering tour, which will take you to some of the remotest places in the country, where twisted volcanic rocks and crevices provide ample opportunity for some incredible exploring.
Set aside several days for Isalo National Park, where an experienced guide will take you on technical descents, jumps and swims - with the best time to head there during the November-May rainy season.
For more photo ops than you can shake a lemur tail at, Marojejy National Park is home to a diverse mountainous region, as well as various waterfalls and cascades, making for a stumble-upon-riches visit.
For inexperienced canyoneers, the Amber Mountains is a great place to start thanks to the gentle descents, which are just a 30-minute walk into the area.
Score an invite to Famadihana
Famadihana (which translates as “turning of the bones”) is a traditional exhumation of ancestors by the Betsileo and Merina people, which occurs in the region around Antsirabe between July and September.
These joyous and celebratory occasions, which are held by each family roughly every seven years, constitute feasting, drinking, music and dancing. Local tour operators - or pousse-pousse men - can help arrange an invitation for visitors to attend one. And if you’re lucky enough to go, it’s polite to bring a bottle of rum as a gift for the host family.
Visiting central Madagascar? Head to the Parc National de Ranomafana, made up of 102 549 acres of rainforest, with a myriad of small streams meandering through it, all of which cascade into the Namorona River.
Find 12 species of lemur, and book yourself in for a guided walk - the nocturnal is our favourite - to spot the fanaloka, Malagasy civet and brown mouse lemurs.
Flying into the capital of Antananarivo, make sure you book in for dinner at La Varangue, helmed by one of the world’s top chefs, Lalaina Ravelomanana. Discover a menu of Madagascan-French fusion delights, with the chocolate options highly recommended as Ravelomanana is a master chocolatier. - Scene